Accuracy in Media

That the media uses experts to illustrate the news for us is, of course, both useful and delightful. But the definition of “expert” does all too often seem to descend into one or another partisan for whatever view the media outlet is trying to put forward.

“Experts” on climate change seem to be from some pro-do everything about climate change right now group as a typical enough example.

NPR falls into this trap when discussing the training of special education teachers. Yes, true, they do need to be trained. And yet, their story starts: “Students with disabilities have a right to qualified teachers — but there’s a shortage.”

As the article goes on to correctly point out, that right is if there are those qualified teachers available. If there aren’t then those training to be qualified can indeed do that work. Perhaps not a perfect solution but there we are. At which point, their expert acquired to talk of this story:

“It’s a practice that concerns some special education experts. They worry placing people who aren’t fully trained for the job in charge of classrooms could harm some of the most vulnerable students.”

OK, but:

“Jacqueline Rodriguez, with the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, is alarmed at the number of provisional licenses issued to unqualified special education teachers in recent years — even if those teachers are actively working toward full licensure.

“‘The band-aid has been, let’s put somebody who’s breathing in front of kids, and hope that everybody survives,’ she says. Her organization focuses on teacher preparation, and has partnered with higher education institutions to improve recruitment of special educators.”

Not quite. The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education is, in fact, the professional trade union for those colleges that run Ed classes.

Rodriguez’s employers have an intimate interest in increasing the number of people who gain teaching qualifications. Even a direct financial interest in that increase. She may well be an expert on the subject, but we might not say that she was a disinterested one in it.

NPR really should be able to do better than this. Its website gains 85 million visits a month, there’s that considerable presence on the airwaves. And, of course, the varied governmental support for the outlet to consider. They’re not short of the resources necessary to find a neutral source on any subject.

Experts inform and that’s why it’s entirely respectable for the media to use them. But a certain selectivity would be appropriate. Someone whose employers sell teacher training might not be that neutral expert required to discuss the need for more – or less perhaps – teacher training out there. As with so many used these days, experts are tending to be activists rather than simply full of knowledge waiting to be imparted.




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